As we celebrate Black History Month, we must be able to see our common humanity. We all, in varying degrees, live, love, laugh, get sick, and die. We all have fears, dreams, and desires.
A person’s race, ethnicity, political affiliation, religious tradition, educational level, wealth, and privilege cannot change our common inevitabilities. However, these things can influence a person’s quality of life and longevity, and create various structural inequalities that reinforce poor health outcomes.
Our country’s history is complicated. Our founding federal and state constitutional documents are brilliantly written and aspirational. They call us to our highest and most noble virtues. They speak of freedom, faith, justice, opportunity, fairness, and fellowship, among other things; however, while many Americans enjoy these noble things, too many struggles to grasp or keep the promises enshrined in those documents.
Black History is American History. Thus, we must realize that the quality and related disparities seen in past and modern health care is an American outcome based on how groups of individuals negotiated and structured health care in America.
We launched our Rise Above Stigma initiative last summer to look more closely at regional population risk factors. We have discovered vestiges of many systemic barriers to health-seeking behaviors. We understand that these barriers are rooted in history, mistrust, inefficient delivery systems, pain, and broken promises. Marginalized blacks and whites are reporting similar barriers in our region.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), annual treatment rates among U.S. adults with any mental illness reveal that 37.1 percent are African-American. We know this demographic struggles to access quality, competent health care. We also know poor whites struggle with similar challenges, too. This is why we work to mitigate as many negative social determinants of health through our housing, food insecurity, workforce development, and educational programs.
Due to the commonalities we see, we are educating all regional demographic groups about structural barriers to health care. We are hosting town halls, engaging in a regional messaging campaign, sponsoring a theatrical psychodrama, and touring a mural that displays an array of mental health images. We are also reintroducing the region’s people to our integrated community health network and our mental health, addiction, prevention and wellness, and developmental disability services. We have developed a mobile app and operate a 24/7/365 crisis hotline that people can dial at any time – day or night. We will be deploying our mobile health unit to help meet people where they are and in their communities.
Black History is our nation’s history, whether we want to admit it or not. And as we realize this truth, we must also agree on improving population health outcomes for all Americans, especially those who live on the margins of society. We must not argue over the various methods to be used and who gets the credit. We must focus on our commonalities and help Americans live out their dreams and aspirations.